By Nicholas Karakas
“KEEP MOVING” was the motto of the late John Lewis. Our beloved faith strangely believes in STANDING STILL, using the long repetitive and difficult eulogies from year 100 on to the St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy of the 4th century and after to guide the laity throughout the liturgy. While these troparia struck a kind, forceful and dynamic cord in the Orthodox brethren then and several centuries later, today in the 21st century with our adult children and their families fleeing the faith in numbers too sorrowful to report, it is evident that the liturgies of the first century and on are but one of many issues that are causing this exodus.
I OFTEN WONDER WHAT SIDE OF HISTORY WILL ORTHODOXY BE ON. The side of perseverance, militance and moving forward or the continuous nitpicking, false stubbornness, refusal to recognize the importance of sub-levels of the diaconate and lower orders and to revise the liturgy to recognize that we are in the 21st century.
How can we Orthodox forget the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King and Archbishop Iacovos which began as an “organic” movement. No matter the beatings, fights and insults that the crusade endured, that multi-year trek is reminiscent of the struggles the early long-suffering Christians sustained without yielding.
Even a cursory review of history can yield enough to know how previous events tend to repeat themselves.
Our Wonderful Faith is stuck in the past and our leadership seems determined to keep it that way. So with a hierarchy so resolute on the archaic, how would it be possible for them to sermonize, evangelize or proclaim on subjects of today, like abortion, LGBT people, ways to retain our young people in the Orthodox faith, cremation and other current matters and topics we brethren are facing as we live, struggle to and care for our families during this pandemic period.
It’s has been so long since our hierarchy has performed such services in and from the present that the European style of the liturgy has become the new normal for, we American Orthodox. The old order prevails, if no new saints or saintly people deserve time in the sermons. Yes, these people, they may not have been crucified but just happen to endure the chopping off their Christian heads, families destroyed by layoffs, looted businesses, dear children dead by drug addictions and suicide. People, yes, some suffering in our very own Orthodox pews and many, many others who believe in our Christ the Lord, please tell me they are unworthy, that they can’t reach sainthood! Not to lay the blame entirely upon our bishops, our laity share a good portion of the blame. Where is their demand that our bishops do and perform more actively and outwardly in the function of their spiritual duties? But we in the pews know better but are reluctant to speak up and out.
But what is the reason for these happenings?
We faithful have been beaten up for so long by the European system of church governance that our church in America is an identical copy and captive of it. Nothing short of a tsunami will usher any changes. You attentive and knowledgeable readers, please tell me just where do you think our Orthodox faith will be in the short to medium term 5, 10, 15 or even 25 years from now and how may we foster our faith today to achieve another 50 years and longer for future generations?
Is it possible, this very moment that those courageous, weary, denounced and slaughtered followers of Christ and later, could look down upon us Orthodox Christians and give us a thumbs up on the manor we are conducting, sheathing and enhancing our Orthodox Faith today. My thought is it would engender a severe dismissive OXI!
Our Hierarchy, Clergy, Church service groups, Philoptochos, the Greek city leagues, Ahepa plus other distinguished fraternities have through more than 100 years have worked hard, struggled to be advocates and proselyte for the Orthodox Faith, only to have our own young adults and even families flee our reservation. The retort to my position is that “all religions are losing adherents”. My answer, yes, I am concerned about the loss of Christians, over all this is very hurtful and damaging to our society. However, my main and only consideration is Greek Orthodoxy.
The solution to what I have written dear fellow Orthodox is somewhere in this message and your minds. Far be it to my offering it. We are Americans. Where is the American Greek Orthodox Church when we need it?
I suppose you may feel that I am some kind of a nut as to write these editorial messages at my cost. So far, my family allows me to be at home, without handcuffs, shackles or tight apparel.
To further alleviate your grave concerns, I am submitting the photo taken on the day I received the Honorary PhD degree from the university of Missouri St. Louis with my beloved now departed wife Sophia and Chancellor Thomas George.
I urge you dear Readers to feel free to email with your comments and insults as I welcome them all and encourage an open and honest discussion and debate about our Orthodox future.
Nick, thank you for your op-ed piece. I’m trying to understand where you’re going with it, though. You mention, “… the liturgies of the first century and on are but one of many issues that are causing this exodus”, and you mention, “… revise the liturgy to recognize that we are in the 21st century.” I can only assume that you are making implications to “shorten” the Divine Liturgy (and other services), “update” the hymns to be more “understandable”, and of course, translate them so they can be chanted in modern English so people can “understand” them “in real time”… “on the fly”, so to speak, in the middle of the Liturgy.
With all due respect, sir, I don’t know who you think you are to mandate such a revision of the Divine Liturgy. You really and truly think that our divine services are archaic? That they do not apply to today’s world? No doubt, then, you do not feel that they are God-inspired, do you? If that’s the case, I suggest that you renounce your “citizenship” in the Orthodox Church and tune in on Sunday mornings to watch Joel Osteen so you can be inspired. No doubt you’re not listening to what IS being preached and sermonized on Sundays. The Church IS addressing these issues. You’re just not listening, and that’s YOUR problem. I humbly apologize if those are harsh words. I am neither judging you nor telling you how to live your Faith. I am a chanter in the Greek Orthodox Church with over 50 years of education, training, and experience, born and raised in this country (with parents from Greece, of course) and this topic is right up my alley. In other words, you picked the wrong person with whom to make this argument. I plan on soon releasing a huge blog article that I wrote regarding the use of English in Orthodox worship. I outline all of my reasons why English does not work. Of course, that’s my OWN op-ed peace and we’re all entitled to our opinions, right? But to imply that we can just very easily change everything clearly shows lack of sensitivity, lack of respect for our tradition, lackof respect for our Faith, and lack of knowledge. I’m not going to say more here because I can rant and go on for 20 pages, which is about the length of my simple little blog article that has turned into a monster. I WILL tell you this, and you can take it to the bank: without a shadow of a doubt, the English language is NOT what is going to save Orthodoxy in this country. And if you think it is, then you are simply delusional. We have far too many other problems than to make changes to our services that will ultimately and very simply not work. Now more than ever, we NEED the ancient services to remain intact and unobstructed. And if people can’t “understand” them, how about they do some reading during the week to prepare? How about they read a good translation or read the Holy Fathers or read the exegeseis of eminent Orthodox theologians who made it their life’s work to explain everything so people can more easily “understand” their faith? Oh, wait… that’s just too much work, isn’t it? Too much energy to be expended… not enough time is available because we have too many other things to do in our lives than devote a few hours to our salvation. What can I say? No one is FORCING anyone to do these things. It’s your call. It’s your “free will”. God bless and stay safe!
Thank you for your response to my message. No, I am not trying to start a civil war. If I came through as demonstrative, I suggest you did also. I admire your resolve. Your position seems to be that Greek Service and cantor-rites cannot be translated into English properly. To this I say the Church has to appeal to the language of the people. Where are our service writers and choral composers, Frank Desby comes to mind? Did he and others get subsumed or hijacked by the Hierarchial authority? Desby’s works are still being sung by several parishes on the West coast.
I commend you for your services as cantor these many years as your spiritual performances are a vital part of and serve to uplift the worshippers in your presence.
Yours in Christ,